Q&A Sunday: How do I stop obsessing about food?

After a supremely cool Halloween night, this week I’m so excited to introduce you to a new feature, Q&A Sunday, in which I’ll be answering real questions from readers.

This week’s question is from a recent college grad who is struggling with obsessing about her eating. I’m sure that this is something that so many of us can relate to – I definitely can!

The Q:

Hi Katie! I subscribed to your blog about 2 months ago, and I love it. It has truly helped me realize that being obsessive about food is something with which a lot of people struggle.

I just graduated from an Ivy League school where I swam varsity all four years, and I have always been in a super intense, high-stress environment.

Back when I swam, I never really had to worry about what I was eating, although it was always in the back of my mind. Since retiring from swimming, I find that my naturally OCD-ridden mind had kicked into overdrive, and I can’t seem to spend one hour not thinking over and over again about what I’ve eating so far that day. I have to visualize it and obsess over it, and it drives me crazy.

How do you deal with obsessive thoughts and the nagging feeling to remember and track what you’ve eaten?

-- Kate

 

The A:

First of all, thank you for your question! I’m SO glad that my blog has been helpful, and there’s nothing I love more than hearing that other people are getting a lot out of what I write.

I can also totally relate. I’ll be honest: I’m naturally a worrier, and it sounds like you are, too. Even though you “never really had to worry” about eating in college because you exercised so much, it sounds like it was still on your mind. And then when your varsity fitness regime went away, those thoughts started dominating your brain space. 

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to sit here and tell you to just “stop thinking so much” or “it will be fine,” because I’ve never seen just telling someone to "stop worrying" work for any of my clients, and it doesn’t work for me, either.

In my experience, obsessive brains are calmed by proof that things will be okay, not by empty hopes. So here’s what I’d suggest you try:

 

1. Set your intention, every dang day.

A huge source of anxiety is just from not knowing if you are doing the right thing. So I actually want to make sure that you (at least in the beginning) have a really clear set of goals, and that you can track your progress against those goals.

The first part of this process is to set an intention, each morning, for what your goal is with food (or any part of your life). It could be: “I want to eat when I am hungry today,” or “I want to take good care of my body.”

It could be anything. But define it for yourself, and write it down.

 

2. Keep a food journal. 

The second key step in this process is to have data -- actual hard facts -- about your eating.

That way, when you start to obsess or worry or wonder, you can say to yourself, “Nope, Kate, you ate when you were hungry every single meal today! Nothing to worry about!”

That's so weird, I keep eating cookies that I don't even want at 4 pm, between my last two meetings of the day. I wonder why that is?

If the thought of a food journal freaks you out and reminds you of miserable diets and makes you want to eat an entire pizza in the next fifteen minutes, you don’t have to worry. My version of food journaling is completely different, and calories are unlimited.

If the thought of a food journal freaks you out and reminds you of miserable diets, you don’t have to worry. My version of food journaling is completely different, and calories are unlimited.

Here’s a post I wrote about how to keep a non-judgmental food journal – check it out, and commit to keeping one for at least a week or two.

 

3. Reflect on your day, every dang day

At the end of your day, you really do have to make a few minutes (even just five!) for self-reflection. Here’s three great questions to get you started:

  • How was I able to put my intention into practice today? Or not?
  • What am I learning about myself as a result of this exercise?
  • What changes will I make tomorrow about what I’ve learned?

Make sure to write them down, and yes, answer the same questions every day. It might seem repetitive, but trust me on this one. This exercise is extremely powerful if done of the course of 1-2 weeks.

 

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Kate, your strong work ethic – the same thing that helped you to go to swim practice every day and give it your best – may actually be a great thing for you in this situation. If you can do these things every day for two weeks (and it should take only 10-20 minutes a day), I’d love to see what happens to you!

And you don't need to do this forever!  I certainly don’t! But for many people (especially habitual worriers), it is a great first step to gather data and calm down the worrying mind.

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I’d love to hear from you: Are you someone who worries incessantly about your eating? What has worked for you? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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Two last things :) 

If you’d like your question to be answered on the blog, shoot me an email at Katie@katiseaver.com.

And from my heart to yours: sometimes putting tips into practice in your life can be tough. If you’d like some help in actually making changes, check out my Getting Started Sessions.